My path in research: Catherine Chmiel

By Catherine Chmiel on 01 July 2021

I have been a research midwife for more than 12 years. During that time, I have played a key role in driving forward research projects at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) and its predecessor organisation. Since October 2019 I have served as one of the Trust’s Research & Innovation (R&I) Matrons alongside the additional commitment as a national NIHR Midwife Champion for reproductive health and childbirth research.

I am also among a select group accepted on to the NIHR’s three-year 70@70 scheme – a senior nurse and midwife research leadership programme for clinical leaders with a record of developing existing practice.

My week is split between my 70@70 role (two days a week) and my role as Matron within MFT’s R&I team (three days a week).

When I first qualified in February 2002, I worked as a rotational midwife in labour, antenatal and postnatal care. I’d never really thought about working in research when I was training to be a midwife. However, while working at another NHS trust, I was involved in a case where a woman sadly died as a result of pre-eclampsia. That incident affected me emotionally and instilled a passion to make a bigger impact on the care that women with pre-eclampsia receive.  It underlined my belief that how we manage pre-eclampsia is crucial to reducing the number of mums and babies that have complications as a result of this condition.

In January 2009, a midwifery role in research was advertised at this Trust. The role was specifically focused on pre-eclampsia and I knew I had to apply for it! I felt I could make a bigger change to how pre-eclampsia is treated by working in research to try and find new ways of caring for women and families affected by the condition.

I was appointed to the role, and I helped to set up the Manchester Antenatal Vascular Services (MAViS) clinic at Saint Mary's Hospital (SMH) in 2012 alongside Consultant Obstetrician Professor Jenny Myers. MAViS is a clinic for women at high risk of developing pre-eclampsia in pregnancy due to existing maternal conditions, such as hypertension. It has been amazing to be part of MAViS’ growth, not only in terms of women recruited to research, but also the expertise and knowledge of the research professionals involved. I am so proud of the large numbers of women the team has recruited onto studies, with the overall aim of improving outcomes for the women and families we care for.

Whilst working in the MAViS clinic I was appointed as the Research Midwife Coordinator to manage and lead the other midwives within the research team, and I carried out that role for almost five years. I only felt comfortable leaving that role and stepping into my new position as Matron for R&I knowing I had achieved a positive impact on the clinical care women with pre-eclampsia receive. Prior to when I was the Matron for R&I, I identified very quickly that I was a natural at managing and motivating people. That is why I have moved into operational management, rather than undertaking my own research. I want to lead people well, so they will go on and deliver good research.

I am very passionate about raising the profile of research from a delivery perspective, as well as a Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions (NMAHP) perspective. I have a vision as to how I would like to use my role as a Matron to make an impact and facilitate people’s initiation into a research career. I want to support a culture of inquiry so that midwives have those initial conversations, develop their thought process, and naturally want to go on and have a career in research.

From a research delivery point of view, I also want to improve the way we promote and circulate findings in the clinical environment. We do our work so well, but I believe we can improve the way we share our findings, and I think disseminating those results that will give midwives the food for thought to get involved.

For anyone considering a career in research, the most important thing for me is the positive impact research can have on patients, service users, and their families. For me, I never wanted to see another woman die as a direct result of a pregnancy-related condition. I knew I was never going to stop that happening, but I asked myself, “What’s the best way for me to have a positive impact on these families?”, and for me, research was the answer.  I felt I could be part of the bigger picture and I wouldn't want to do anything else now.